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El Tajín/Mexico

Introducing El Tajín

For an ancient city ‘rediscovered’ accidently by an officious Spaniard looking for illegal tobacco plantations in 1785, El Tajín paints a bold contemporary picture. Situated on a plain surrounded by low verdant hills 6km west of Papantla, the extensive ruins are the most impressive reminder of Classic Veracruz civilization and the state’s most visited tourist site.

Probably founded in AD 100, El Tajín (the name is Totonac for ‘thunder,’ ‘lightning’ or ‘hurricane’) reached its zenith as a city and ceremonial center between AD 600 and 900. Around 1230 the site was abandoned, possibly after a fire and attacks by Chichimecs. Quickly engulfed by the jungle, it lay unknown to the Spaniards until 1785.

Among El Tajín’s special features are rows of square niches on the sides of buildings, numerous ball courts and sculptures depicting human sacrifice connected with the ball game. Archaeologist José García Payón believed that El Tajín’s niches and stone mosaics symbolized day and night, light and dark, and life and death in a universe composed of dualities, though many are skeptical of this interpretation.

You can download a map to the El Tajín ruins for free at www.lonelyplanet.com/additional-mexico-maps.